However, it’s something I’m happy to be wrong about—stupendously, hilariously wrong, even. In Los Angeles last night, Measure S was defeated by an absolutely crushing vote of 69%-31%. That’s a margin of almost 40 points, which alone outweighs the number of people who voted yes on the thing.
Not too shabby. So what happened here? How did this result wind up being so lopsided?
Campaign strategy likely played a part. The Yes on S campaign heavily relied on mailers and billboards, while No on S focused on canvasing. Ground game always beats advertising (a lesson the Hillary Clinton campaign taught us the hard way). Also, despite some of their lackadaisical arguments, the No on S campaign was genuinely motivated by a fear of defeat. Victory was never assured, and that lit a fire under the coalition organized against Measure S.
But the broader context of the election also needs to be looked at. Voter turnout for this election was incredibly low—a mere 11%. Out of a city of four million people, barely under 250,000 voted on Measure S. Low voter turnout was expected, but what’s interesting to note is that many opponents of Measure S feared that low turnout would give the initiative a major boost. One columnist feared that millennials would fail to turn out and hand Measure S a victory, while another asserted that the initiative was purposefully put on the March ballot to target the older homeowners who were more likely to show up.
But in light of the initiative’s crushing defeat, one can’t help but wonder: What if low turnout actually harmed Measure S?
The 11% of Los Angeles voters that showed up last night overwhelmingly voted for the status quo. Mayor Eric Garcetti won reelection in a landslide over a slate of candidates that no one really thought had a chance. Every single one of the incumbent city councilors who ran won handily. Measure S had few complements on the ballot that could have boosted its numbers. The 11% of voters that turned out weren’t motivated by a desire for radical change of any sort, nor were they a bunch of grouchy old-timers who wanted to Make Los Angeles Great Again. Instead, they showed up to announce that they were mostly comfortable with the way things were.
So what does this all mean for Los Angeles moving forward? Urbanists and planners did not suffer the humiliating defeat that I feared. The status quo was upheld. City Hall promised a few reforms, like restricting interaction between developers and city officials and requiring more frequent updates of community plans—two things that Measure S supporters wanted. But without the threat of a ballot initiative hanging over their heads, it remains to be seen if they’ll actually go through with meaningful reforms. We may be back to business as usual, but that will sow the seeds of further discontent.
As welcome as the reforms would be, they’re not enough. Los Angeles is still deep in an affordable housing crisis, and the city needs to do a lot more to address it. One positive sign came out of last night, when a county measure to fund homeless services passed. But homelessness is just one part of the broader affordability crisis in Los Angeles, and the current approach of trying to encourage the market to build affordable units isn’t producing enough to meet the demand. More extensive programs—perhaps even an expansive public housing initiative at the local level—need to be undertaken. Gentrification was what gave Measure S legs in the first place, and a lot has to be done to address its effects. Planners may have won this fight, but they shouldn’t get too cocky just yet.